It was a grand evening.
On Saturday night, I attended a program inducting five luminaries into Orange Coast College's Athletic Hall of Fame. The quintet was feted during ceremonies on campus.
The inductees were Tandy Gillis, the former Pirate basketball coach; tennis star Julie Slattery Shapiro; Vern Wagner, the wrestling coach; Mike Mayne, the baseball coach; and Mayne's son Brent, a former OCC and major league catcher.
One of the most vivid memories I hold of these five inductees is Gillis' inspirational 1978-79 men's basketball team. Consisting mostly of players from Newport-Mesa and Huntington Beach, the team shocked the "experts" by winning the state championship.
Gillis said during his emotional remarks Saturday that the '78-'79 season stands out as the high-water mark of his career. He remains in touch with many players from that squad.
As a collegian, Gillis was a member of UC Berkeley's 1959 national championship and 1960 national runners-up basketball teams. A defensive specialist during his senior season, he guarded legends Oscar Robertson and Jerry West, and limited both to half of their season averages.
After several seasons as Corona del Mar High School's head coach, Gillis led OCC's basketball fortunes for 16 seasons, from 1976 to 1992. During their state championship run in 1978-79, the Pirates went 27-5. Gillis' Coast teams won 244 games during his career, the most recorded by any men's basketball coach in the college's history.
Gillis was a hardnosed taskmaster, and an X's-and-O's genius who breathed life into the Pirates' stifling pressure defense. A disciple of Bobby Knight, Gillis was perpetually serious and perpetually intense. He exhibited a no-nonsense approach to coaching, but his players loved him.
Despite going 17-14 the previous year, Gillis entered the 1978-79 season with high hopes.
"I think it's about time we enjoyed our moment in the sun," he said before the season opener. "I like to set goals before a season starts. Our goal this year is to win 20 of 28 regular-season games."
The Pirates exceeded that goal, winning 23 of 28.
At first, sportswriters didn't share Gillis' optimism. But what the heck do sportswriters know?
Orange Coast won eight of its first nine games. The Pirates were 13-3 entering South Coast Conference play.
Led by all-conference first-team players Ray Orgill at guard and power forward Pete Neumann — as well as honorable mention selections Paul Akin (guard) and Steve Timmons (center) — the overachieving Pirates won the conference title with a 10-2 record and finished the regular season at 23-5.
It was on to "The Big Dance."
OCC nipped Riverside College, 77-74, and American River College, 54-52, in the first two rounds of State Tournament play. They then handled powerful L.A. Southwest College in the semifinals, 67-57.
That set up an all-Orange County finale at Cal State Fullerton. OCC met rival Saddleback College for the title. The heavily favored Gauchos were coached by Bill Mulligan, one of the finest basketball coaches in the land at any level. Saddleback also had the No. 1-ranked community college player in the country in the 6-foot, 8-inch center Kevin Magee.
Poised and relaxed, the Pirates jumped out to a 6-0 lead in front of a boisterous throng of 3,355 at Fullerton. OCC held a 29-22 halftime advantage.
Orange Coast enjoyed an 11-point cushion, 51-40, with 8:01 to go, but everyone in the gym knew the talented Gauchos had at least one more run in them. They clawed their way back in less than six minutes to tie the score at 58-58. The score was knotted at the end of regulation, 60-60.
Ray Orgill hit a six-foot runner 46 seconds into overtime to put the Pirates up by two, 62-60, but the Gauchos converted a three-point opportunity to take a one-point advantage, 63-62.
The Pirates dominated the remaining four minutes and won the state title, 75-67. OCC's fans flooded the floor, and Gillis— with a broad smile on his face — clutched the championship trophy at mid-court. It's a moment I'll never forget.
Congrats to Mike Mayne, Brent Mayne, Julie Slattery Shapiro, Vern Wagner and — of course — Tandy Gillis, the latest additions to Orange Coast College's Athletic Hall of Fame!
JIM CARNETT lives in Costa Mesa. His column runs Wednesdays.